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Shuttleworth, A. (1984). Finding A Link: From Thinking at to Thinking with a Child. J. Child Psychother., 10(1):105-119.

(1984). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 10(1):105-119

Finding A Link: From Thinking at to Thinking with a Child

Alan Shuttleworth

This is an account of learning difficulties that were only helped when (a) they got massively and prolongedly lodged inside me and (b) when I then learnt something. Matthew is a child who was referred for a consultation at the age of 5 1/2. He had very serious learning difficulties. I began seeing him five times a week when he was just 6. I have now been seeing him for over five years; for three years at five times a week and for the last two years at three times a week.

Before going any further with what Matthew would often have said was more of my “usual gibberish” I feel it's only right to begin by letting him have his own say first, for one of the things I feel I have learned from him very painfully and slowly is that with him it is usually only helpful to try to gather my thoughts together into a statement if I have first submitted, for much longer than part of me would like, to listening to him and endeavouring to think my way step by step into his point of view. On good days he has sometimes said that part of him agrees that he does love some of therapy but he would also, I think, want me to quote him as saying to me, “Look, just shut up, don't ask any more stupid questions, sit still and listen,” and (passim) “when can I stop coming? I hate coming. It's so boring. It's been five years. It's nearly half my life you know.”

Having given him at least a moment to make those introductory statements in his own right, I would like to make my own introduction by quoting briefly from the first year of therapy to express what I think is the gist of the matter.

“You're a dumbhead, Mr Shuttle worth.”

“What's a dumbhead?” I asked.

“It's because your head's been split.”

“What splits it?” I asked.

“Oh shut up, you're stupid, you're a dumbhead … You're the most dumbhead I've ever seen … You'll never grow up and go to state school.”


I would now like to outline the problem as it got stated at the time of referral. He was referred at the age of 5 1/2 at the point at which he was just about to start formal schooling, because of acute and justified anxiety about whether he could function at all in school.

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